Happy Birthday Merv Griffin: Remembering the Legendary ‘Jeopardy!’ and ‘Wheel of Fortune’ Creator

by Madison Miller

While Alex Trebek, Pat Sajak, and Vanna White seem like the faces and masterminds of popular game shows like “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel of Fortune,” there’s a lot of work that goes on behind the scenes.

At the end of the day, one man helped create the general framework of these TV programs.

This man, born in California in 1925 exactly 96 years ago, is the mastermind behind two of the most-watched and most popular game shows in TV syndication, which are watched by hundreds of millions of people all over the world.

Who is Merv Griffin?

Merv Griffin Game Show Legend

Griffin helped pave the way for the future of game show history. He was one of the few that helped pick up the pieces after the rigging scandals of the 1950s that nearly destroyed the entire genre.

According to the Smithsonian Magazine, Merv Griffin got the idea for “Jeopardy!” while he was flying back to New York from visiting his wife’s parents in Michigan. He had been working on some notes for a new show. Julann, his wife, asked him if it was a knowledge-based game or if it was something else entirely.

He replied, “Since ‘The $64,000 Question,’ the network won’t let you do those anymore. They suspect you of giving them the answers.”

She suggested that contestants be given the answers and then come up with the questions, which would be the unique premise of the show. They originally called the game “What’s the Question?” Although NBC thought it was too hard, the network bought it, renamed it, and placed Art Fleming as the host. A moment on a plane turned into a hit show.

He was a lot more than just the “Jeopardy!” and “Wheel of Fortune” mastermind. He was also a bandleader, movie actor, TV personality, and major media mogul. He was the host of “The Merv Griffin Show,” which made him the second-most-influential and popular talk show host behind Johnny Carson. His late-night hosting was short-lived, as he was competing against Carson’s insane popularity and other network issues. He was also the president of Merv Griffin Enterprises.

Music and TV Hosting

According to his IMDb page, his music had been a hit for many people, specifically nightclub audiences. He recorded hits like “I’ve Got a Lonely Bunch of Coconuts,” “Wilhelmina,” and “Never Been Kissed.” He also made the move to movies like “So This Is Love” and “The Boy from Oklahoma.” At the end of the day, TV was his home base and his largest playing ground.

He had regular performances on “The Arthur Murray Party” and “The Tonight Show Starring Jack Paar” before he was offered to host his show, “Play Your Hunch” in 1958. This is when he came up with “Jeopardy!” It is the second-highest-rated game show in TV syndication history. “Wheel of Fortune” is the longest-running game show to hold the No. 1 spot in television syndication history.

Besides creating the show, Griffin always kept shows like “Jeopardy!” under his wing. He had even written the iconic music that plays while contestants write their answers for the “Final Jeopardy” category.

Sadly, Merv Griffin passed away in 2007 after a long career of trivia, game shows, and talk show television. He died from prostate cancer at the age of 82.